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Tag: Bradshaw v. Matwick

More on Mitigation of Damages: Working When Your Doctor Says Stop

As previously discussed, if you sue for damages as a result of personal injuries you have a duty to minimize you losses.  If you fail to take reasonable efforts to do so the damages you are entitled to can be reduced.  This legal principle is called “failure to mitigate“.
The most common argument addressing mitigation relates to following doctor’s advice.  If a person fails to follow medical advice without good reason their damages can be reduced.  Earlier this week the BC Court of Appeal had an opportunity to address an interesting mitigation issue: Does a Plaintiff fail to mitigate their damages when they ignore their doctor’s advice to take time away from work?
In this week’s case (Bradshaw v. Matwick) the Plaintiff was in a 2006 rear-end crash.   Following the collision the Plaintiff’s doctor “recommended that the plaintiff stop working and enter into a full-time rehabilitation program.  He felt that the plaintiff’s recovery would be hastened by entering into such a program”  The Plaintiff did not follow this advice.  When asked why he explained that he simply could not afford time away from work testifying that “his financial situation was such that he needed to continue working“.
At trial the Plaintiff was awarded just over $268,000 in total damages for his injuries and loss.  The Defendant appealed arguing, amongst other things, that the trial judge erred in failing to reduce the damages for the Plaintiff’s failure to follow his doctor’s advice.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed with this argument finding that the Plaintiff’s decision to continue working out of financial need was reasonable.  In dismissing this aspect of the appeal the Court provided the following helpful reasons:

[16]         The trial judge found that the plaintiff had acted reasonably in returning to work in August 2006, and that he had generally followed recommendations for rehabilitative exercise:

[40]          In regards to Mr. Bradshaw continuing to work in August 2006, against his doctor’s advice, Mr. Bradshaw had no choice.  The plaintiff had a less than accommodating employer.  The plaintiff was aware that in order to keep his job, he had to work at his job.  It would be reasonable for the plaintiff to conclude based on his job circumstances, that taking a substantial time off to recover would result in the loss of his job.  The effects for the plaintiff in this respect would be devastating.  He has worked for Rebelle for over twenty years.  He has limited reading and writing skills which would make any new job which would require training difficult for him.  It was not unreasonable for the plaintiff, in light of this circumstance, to make the decision to struggle on and hope for the best in his recovery while continuing to work.

[41]          Additionally, the plaintiff had significant commitments to a wife and two children.  He, at best, earns a moderate to good income in the $50,000 range.  It is highly unlikely that he could have survived on the modest wage loss funds available to him either through the defendants’ insurer or through the employment insurance program.  His wife, Ms. Bennett, has only ever worked part-time and although she no doubt contributes to the family expenses, the household consists of two adults, and two children, in a home they own with a mortgage.

[17]         On appeal, the defendants point to evidence from the plaintiff’s doctor to the effect that he would have given the plaintiff a medical note recommending full-time rehabilitation if one had been requested, and to the employer’s evidence that it would have given the plaintiff a leave of absence if such a note had been provided.  They also argue that the plaintiff presented only minimal evidence of his financial position in August 2006, and contend that the trial judge relied on inadmissible hearsay.  The defendants say that, in the face of that evidence, the judge’s finding that it was reasonable for the plaintiff to return to work represents a palpable and overriding error.

[18]         I am unable to accept the defendants’ assertion.  There was considerable evidence concerning difficulties in the relationship between the plaintiff and his employer.  In the circumstances, it was open to the trial judge to accept that the plaintiff had a reasonable apprehension that he might lose his employment if he did not return to work.  While the evidence of the plaintiff’s precise financial position in August 2006 was limited, there was sufficient information before the trial judge to allow him to conclude that the plaintiff’s financial position was not sufficiently secure to allow him to risk losing his job.

[19]         In any event, even if it had been unequivocally established that the plaintiff’s recovery was delayed by his decision to return to work in August 2006, it would not prove that the decision resulted in an exacerbation of his damages.  The plaintiff’s immediate wage losses were significantly reduced by his decision to return to work.  It is not at all apparent that any consequential increase in his non-pecuniary losses or subsequent wage losses would have offset the immediate gains.  Thus, the defendants have failed to show that the decision to return to work in August 2006 resulted in any net increase in the plaintiff’s damages.

$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Back and Knee Injuries

(Please note the past wage loss award in the case discussed below was varied slightly on appeal.  The BC Court of Appeal Judgement can be found here)
Here is the latest in my effort to continue to grow this online database of ICBC and other BC Personal Injury Cases addressing damages for pain and suffering.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Bradshaw v. Matwick) awarding a Plaintiff $268,389 in total damages as a result of injuries and losses suffered in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.
The crash was a rear end collision which occurred in Port Coquitlam.  Liability (fault) was admitted focusing the trial on quantum of damages (value of the injuries).
The Plaintiff was a 41 year old metal fabricator.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $70,000  Mr. Justice Groves summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[32] By the time of trial, the plaintiff’s injuries were close to three years old.  I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that he continues to suffer from some level of disability resulting from the accident—he continues to suffer pain and he continues to have a disability which prohibits heavy lifting, prolonged standing, neck flexion, and sustained and repetitive reaching.  I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that at present, he continues to put all of his physical energies towards his work.  When he is not at work, he is resting and preparing for the next day of work.  The effect of the injuries caused by the accident have created a significantly lower quality of life for the plaintiff.

[33] As for the knee injury, the plaintiff continued to walk with a significant limp in court.  This is consistent with what is reported by:  his spouse, Sandra Bennett; his co-workers Rune Akerbakk and Ron Philbrook; and by his less than sympathetic employer, Rob Charland.  The evidence is suggestive that the medial tear may be repairable by surgery.  Of note, it took considerable time, despite the plaintiff’s desire early on for a MRI, to have the MRI performed.  There is no evidence before me as to when or if surgery to repair this knee is possible or scheduled…

[43] The plaintiff suffered injuries to his back, neck, shoulder and left knee.  He was unable to return to work for over three months after the April 26, 2006 accident, and then only with difficulty and on reduced hours.  Close to three years after the accident, the plaintiff continues to experience considerable pain in his neck and shoulder, back and knee.  The evidence is clear that his job as a metal fabricator involves physically demanding tasks which exacerbate these injuries.  He has not been able to return to his pre-accident performance levels at work.

[44] Two of the expert witnesses, Dr. Spooner and Dr. Vaisler, testified that the plaintiff may have a permanent disability as a result of the accident injuries.  The injuries and the corresponding pain levels have significantly affected the plaintiff’s quality of life and his relationship with his family, as he has little energy or ability to remain active outside of work hours and is frequently irritable and short-tempered as a result of the pain.

[45] The plaintiff’s lifestyle has been dramatically affected by the injuries he suffered in the accident.  The plaintiff, prior to the accident, was an active outdoorsman who regularly went fly fishing with his daughter at remote locations around the Lower Mainland and in southern British Columbia.  Since the accident he has completely curtailed this activity and his relationship with his daughter has suffered.  Prior to the accident, he was an active father with his young son, enjoying activities with his son in the yard, and in the home.  Since the accident his relationship with his son has resorted to playing video games or other activities which involved sitting and lying down, with no physical exertion.

[46] Ms. Bennett describes the plaintiff, prior to the accident, as a “fabulous 100% dad”.  She described that her daughter viewed him as “her god”.  Now the daughter does not want to hang around with her father any longer.

[47] The evidence suggests yard work and snow removal is simply left undone, as the plaintiff can no longer do it.

[48] Ms. Bennett describes her relationship with the plaintiff as “hell”.  She says that when the plaintiff is at home, the family is “walking on eggshells”.  The plaintiff is in near constant pain.  He has to immediately lie down after work.  His interaction with the family is minimal.  He is completed affected by the pain.

[49] His relationship with his wife, Ms. Bennett, who testified, has become tenuous at best.  Prior to the accident they enjoyed an active sex life—they no longer do.  For close to 2½ years, because of his injuries, the plaintiff slept on the living room floor rather than with his wife.  Prior to the accident, the plaintiff vacuumed, did dishes, and cleaned up around the house and was completely responsible for outside yard activities.  The plaintiff and his wife purchased a home on a quarter acre lot.  The home was, to use the vernacular, a “fixer upper”.  The home was repaired by considerable efforts of the plaintiff and the quarter-acre yard was completely landscaped by the efforts of the plaintiff.  Since the accident he has been unable to participate in home repairs or landscaping work.